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Guardian Angels Take First Steps
Founder Curtis Sliwa leads community in first Huntington Station patrol
By Danny Schrafel, The Record
Before the Alliance of the Guardian Angels' boots hit the ground in Huntington Station Thursday, some community members were ready to get on the case.
"Where do I sign up?" 26-year-old Fred Flock, of Huntington Station, asked Huntington Housing Authority Chairman William Spencer just minutes before the Guardian Angels arrived at Jack Abrams School.
Flock said joining the Guardian Angels would be a way for him to improve his neighborhood and make amends for his past.
"In my life, I've seen a lot of ignorance and I've been part of a lot of ignorance," he said. "Sometimes you've got to fight fire with fire - let the ignorant people know there's other people that are willing to take force and put them in their place and let them know this is not going to go on and there are people who are going to stop you. My heart longs for it. I want to help."
Wearing a signature red Guardian Angels beret, Spencer told Flock and community members gathered in the Jack Abrams School auditorium that professional Guardian Angels will patrol Huntington Station through Christmas and work toward building a self-sustaining Huntington Station chapter.
"This is Ground Zero, so to speak, for some of the issues which we are confronting in our community," Spencer said of the Jack Abrams School. "Today, we unite to send a clear message - we have come to reclaim our community, we have come to reclaim our school. I want to make it abundantly clear that violence, crime and gang activity will no longer be tolerated by our community."
Guardian Angels founder and CEO Curtis Sliwa said the Angels' involvement could disrupt gang activity like it did in communities like Greenport and Patchogue, and prevent its spread.
"If it can be contained here, it benefits even these other areas because you're not going to have the exchange of gang activity," Sliwa said.
One thing working in Huntington Station's favor, Sliwa argued, is the relatively tightly concentrated area that suffers the most. With community involvement - which he expects to be ample - Huntington Station can realize reasonably swift results, he said.
"Wouldn't it be great if these great-laid plans we have discussed actually produce results and then this school can continue to function as it was initially built to do - to house students and teachers?" Sliwa said.
Following the forum, Sliwa, Spencer and community leaders took to the street in the rain to conduct the first patrol. Lifelong Huntington Station resident Lisa Mackenzie said she was happy the Guardian Angels are in town, adding her sons, Michael, 13, and George, 11, were interested in Angels youth programming.
"Just the fact that they're here makes a huge statement about what needs to be done in Huntington Station," she said. "I have two upcoming teenagers to raise here in Huntington Station, and I'm afraid every time they leave the house."
Diane Hyind, of Huntington Station, hugged Sliwa as they walked past Gateway Gardens and said she hopes he's part of brighter days for Huntington Station.
"I'm not going to lie to you, it's a bad neighborhood, and they should do something about it," she said.
Leaders of business and charitable organizations joined Councilman Mark Cuthbertson, who observed the forum from the audience. Councilwomen Glenda Jackson and Susan Berland were unable to attend, but their aides read statements on their behalf.
The Huntington Station Business Improvement District is also on board, President Keith Barrett said, and hopes their presence, the police and security cameras will make a difference.
"The Huntington Station Business Improvement District welcomes the experience of the Guardian Angels to help patrol the streets of Huntington Station and to be a positive influence to the community," he said.
Councilman Mark Mayoka praised the Angels' involvement as a creative piece of a long-term solution for Huntington Station.
"We have to think outside the box," Mayoka said. "It's a positive proactive response to safeguard and protect our loved ones throughout the community."
Echoing comments made last week by Jackson, Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone stressed community involvement and unity are keys to making Huntington Station - and the Angels - a success. Sliwa said the Angels work with existing community organizations and cooperate with police.
"To be successful, the Guardian Angels must coordinate what they are doing with the Suffolk County Police Department's enhanced enforcement efforts," Petrone said in a statement. "I would be happy to host a meeting between the Guardian Angels and the Suffolk Police Department to see if the necessary coordination and cooperation can be arranged."
When asked about the Angels, Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer did not comment about the organization, but stated violent crime is down by 31.8 percent during the first nine months of 2010 as compared to last year.
"We have increased our patrols in the hamlet substantially, and our gun and gang unit, working with Narcotics enforcement and the FBI, continues to make arrests of high-ranking gang members. We will maintain these efforts for as long as is necessary," the police commissioner added.
Spencer said first aid instructor Bea Hartigan, of the Huntington Red Cross, and martial arts/self-defense trainer Joe Droual will be in touch with Sliwa and coordinate classes with new recruits in the next couple of weeks. Recruits complete about three months of training, which includes extensive role-playing exercises, before patrolling the streets and attending community festivals and gatherings to deter criminal elements from disrupting events.
To learn more, call Spencer at the Huntington Housing Authority's office at 631-427-6220.